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Fracking and Shale Drilling Caused Spike in Climate-Warming Methane Pollution, Says New Study

Fracking and Shale Drilling Caused Spike in Climate-Warming Methane Pollution, Says New Study

Flaring in Permian Basin Shale with sunflowers

Climate-changing pollution reached unprecedented levels in 2018. That’s both judged against the last 60 years of modern measurements and against 800,000 years of data culled from ice cores, according to the U.S. government’s State of the Climate report, which was published this week with the American Meteorological Society.

That pollution creates a greenhouse effect that is over 42 percent stronger than it was in 1990, the report added.

And while carbon dioxide hit a new level last year, it isn’t the only climate-changing gas that’s on the rise globally. Pollution of the powerful but short-lived greenhouse gas methane also climbed in 2018, showing an increase “higher than the average growth rate over the past decade,” the report adds.

A new Cornell University study published today in the scientific journal Biogeosciences helps to explain what sparked the surge in those methane concentrations, both here in the U.S. and around the world.

One big culprit: shale drilling and fracking.

“This recent increase in methane is massive,” said Cornell professor Robert Howarth, who authored that study. “It’s globally significant. It’s contributed to some of the increase in global warming we’ve seen and shale gas is a major player.”

The new Cornell paper relies on “chemical fingerprints” of the methane pollution in the Earth’s atmosphere. It describes how methane molecules from shale gas and oil production carry different kinds of carbon than methane from either conventional natural gas drilling or coal beds. The methane molecules from shale drilling contain less of the carbon-13 isotope versus carbon-12, the study suggests, using this ratio as one way to hone in on the source of the natural gas.

That chemical fingerprint led the Cornell researchers to point to the shale industry as the major source of the leaks.

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Farm Rot is Eating America Alive

Farm Rot is Eating America Alive

Field Corn, southern Indiana. Photo: Jeffrey St. Clair.

American politics covers up the bleeding of nature

Listen to the Democratic presidential candidates Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. They promise a more democratic, equal, just, compassionate and civilized America. But the statistics they cite are numbing. Millions of Americans are living paycheck to paycheck. Additional millions have no medical insurance. Three billionaires own as much as 150 million Americans. Hundreds of thousands of people are homeless.

How different is this picture from the picture of France on the eve of the French Revolution? Inequality alone says not much. In contrast to the French, we “elected” king Trump. He owns several Versailles.

This distressing political reality in 2019 America is riddled with the bullets of madmen. Young Americans, desperate for meaning and a future, arm themselves for a minute in the TV Sun. They hear Trump badmouthing the non-white immigrants from Mexico and Central America and resort to the mayhem of El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio: killing innocent Americans and immigrants, the anger of the killers finding a murderous outlet.

In this condition of domestic upheaval, Americans have no time or interest for anything else. They are obsessed with survival. They see Congress and the Supreme Court and the White House taking care of the billionaire class, as Senator Sanders rightly defines the tiny minority of wealth and power behind the broken government in Washington, DC.

Meanwhile, Trump is like an extraterrestrial despot visiting Washington, DC, in order to keep the White House in perpetual chaos, play golf in his exclusive resort in Florida, and tweet his orders to the world.

This political reality could be out of a fictional best seller, but it is not. It dazzles, confuses, and angers Americans. Trivia becomes king.

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Going 100% renewable power means a lot of dirty mining

Going 100% renewable power means a lot of dirty mining

Preface. Everyone talks about oil spills, but what about the dirty mining that will have a huge polluting footprint on the earth, and potentially destroy the world’s largest sockeye salmon fishery among other side-effects? Renewables aren’t cleaner and greener than fossils, and require a hell of a lot of fossils to mine the ore, deliver it to a crusher, blast furnace, and fabrication, all accomplished with fossils. 

***

Sadasivam, N. 2019. Report: Going 100% renewable power means a lot of dirty mining. Grist.org

For more than a decade, indigenous communities in Alaska have been fighting to prevent the mining of copper and gold at Pebble Mine in Bristol Bay, home to the world’s largest sockeye salmon fishery and a crucial source of sustenance. The proposed mine, blocked under the Obama administration but inching forward under the Trump administration, has been billed by proponents as necessary to meet the growing demand for copper, which is used in wind turbines, batteries, and solar panels. Similar stories are playing out in Norway, where the Sámi community is fighting a copper mine, and in Papua New Guinea, where a company has been mining the seabed for gold and copper.

Weighing those trade-offs — between supporting mining in environmentally sensitive areas and sourcing metals needed to power renewables — is likely to become more common if countries continue generating more renewable energy. That’s according to a report out Wednesday from researchers at the Institute for Sustainable Futures at the University of Technology Sydney in Australia. The report, commissioned by the environmental organization Earthworks, finds that demand for metals such as copper, lithium and cobalt would skyrocket if countries around the world try to get their electric grids and transportation systems fully powered by renewable energy by 2050. Consequently, a rush to meet that demand could lead to more mining in countries with lax environmental and safety regulations and weak protections for workers.

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

A Fracking Disaster: BC Failing to Make Polluters Pay

A Fracking Disaster: BC Failing to Make Polluters Pay

Auditor general says oil and gas commission hasn’t ensured companies will pay cleanup costs.

Oil well
BC’s oil and gas industry has predictably let the number of inactive wells grow from 3,800 to 7,474 between 2007 and 2018, due to ‘gaps’ in legislation.

The polluter-pay approach isn’t working in British Columbia’s oil and gas patch.

The province’s energy regulator hasn’t secured enough money from companies to cover the estimated $3-billion cleanup costs for 10,672 inactive oil and gas sites, says a new report by B.C. auditor’s general.

But that’s only the beginning of a long list of deficiencies in the B.C. Oil and Gas Commission’s approach to managing the rising environmental and financial risks posed by inactive wells, pipelines and other industry infrastructure, according to the report by Auditor General Carol Bellringer.

In addition to not collecting enough security deposits, the regulator has failed to demand that operators decommission inactive wells in a timely fashion due to “gaps” in legislation.

With no legal requirement to clean up old wells, the industry has predictably let the number of inactive wells grow from 3,800 to 7,474 between 2007 and 2018. 

“The increase in the numbers is significant,” Bellringer said during a Vancouver news conference.

Unlike North Dakota where industry has two years to clean up a well once it stops producing, B.C. has no defined time limits.

The government has promised to introduce changes shortly.

The report noted that the province’s Orphan Site Reclamation Fund is effectively bankrupt.

The number of orphaned sites abandoned by insolvent operators has grown from 45 wells in 2015 to 326 wells today.

According to the regulator estimates, it costs an average $370,000 to cement and reclaim a well.

As a result the agency could face more than $120 million in cleanup costs for the 326 orphaned wells. The fund’s operating budget for 2017/18 was $5.3 million.

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Your Recycling Might Be Poisoning Poor Communities

Your Recycling Might Be Poisoning Poor Communities

You know the routine, which has become a required liturgical rubric of the American civic religion. You separate your trash: plastics here, glass here, cans here, papers here. Doing so is our little way of showing we care about the environment. Not doing so – let’s just say it would be better not to be spotted in noncompliance by anyone with an elevated civic consciousness. 

What happened to all the recyclable material then? Most people hadn’t had a clue. The mostly unknown fact is that it has been mostly sent to China, which has thus far had an insatiable need for cheap raw materials for manufactured products to feed its astonishing rise over the last twenty years into the leading industrial power in the world. 

The system worked beautifully. Americans got to feel good about themselves by recycling as much as possible. China obtained the lowest possible prices for essential materials. The system worked, until suddenly it stopped working. 

The End of Recycling 

In the last year, everything changed with a new law that China passed at the onset of America’s trade war. The law, which came into effect in February 2018, is called the “National Sword” and its aim is to stop China from being used as the dumping ground for refuse from all over the world. It bans imports of 24 types of waste material. And it sets a regulatory standard for contamination that US recyclables cannot meet – with enforcement of that standard imposed by X-rays of shipping containers and much deeper inspections.

Basically, China no longer wants your leftover pizza box. Nor your empty 2-liter bottle of Mountain Dew. 

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

The Toxic Legacy of Environmental Neoliberalism

The Toxic Legacy of Environmental Neoliberalism

A look at Poland’s growing ecological disaster — and its polluted past — shows how green ideals can wither on the vine.

At December’s Katowice Climate Change Conference, Polish President Andrzej Duda proudly opened the proceedings by declaring that coal “does not contradict the protection of the climate and the progress of climate protection.”

This bizarre and ecologically immoral statement, and the conference’s general embrace of coal, comes from a country whose history deserves greater attention, especially since it echoes so much of the world’s present situation — and possibly our future.

Since joining the European Union in 2004, the Polish state has doggedly pursued the neoliberal policies of Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman. The “free” market and finance were liberated from state intervention on behalf of the commons and the environment. Limitless economic growth and hyperconsumerism became a mantra. State industries and services were privatized. The economy boomed, and according to Western trade analysts, Polish consumers “are used to doing their shopping seven days a week and at any time of day or night.”

However, this recent history can make it easy to forget that Poles lived under communism for 44 years until 1989. This was an era mostly marked by economic recessions, severe consumer shortages and an absolute condemnation of capitalism. For better or worse, citizens accepted their meager material conditions with stoic resignation, and a few embraced a minimalist lifestyle. Simply put, Polish culture was not driven by mass consumption and materialism. Those were unattainable.

But at the same time, Polish Marxists in the immediate aftermath of a destructive World War were convinced that communism would quickly usher in a proletarian utopia of progress and plenty. Steel mills, aluminum smelting facilities, shipyards and cement plants were constructed in an initial spasm of modernizing dynamism.

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

More vegetables, less meat for all our sakes

More vegetables, less meat for all our sakes

Spanish market: Vegetable-rich diets make for a healthier planet. Image: By ja ma on Unsplash

Researchers are clear: the healthy diet for a healthy planet is more vegetables, less meat. What matters is the food that’s served, and the way it’s produced too.

LONDON, 17 January, 2019 − An international panel of health scientists and climate researchers has prescribed a new diet for the planet: more vegetables, less meat, fresh fruit, wholegrains and pulses, give up sugar, waste less and keep counting the calories.

And if 200 nations accept the diagnosis and follow doctor’s orders, tomorrow’s farmers may be able to feed 10 billion people comfortably by 2050, help contain climate change, and prevent 11 million premature deaths per year.

A commission sponsored by one of the oldest and most distinguished medical journals in the world today provides what it calls the first scientific targets for a healthy diet, from a sustainable food production system, that operates within what its authors term “planetary boundaries.”

The commission is the result of three years’ consultation by 37 experts from 16 countries, among them experts in health, nutrition, environmental sustainability, economics and political governance.

Goal within reach

It addresses the twin problems of global food supply: altogether 3 billion people are either under-nourished, or approaching clinical obesity because they are too well-nourished.

And global food production in its present form is helping to drive global warming and climate change, trigger accelerating biodiversity loss, pollute the rivers, lakes and coasts with ever greater levels of nitrogen and phosphorus run-off, and make unsustainable use of both land and fresh water.

“The food we eat and how we produce it determines the health of people and the planet, and we are currently getting this seriously wrong,” said Tim Lang, a food scientist at the City University of London, and one of the authors.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

It’s Time to Get Serious About CO2 Pollution

It’s Time to Get Serious About CO2 Pollution

Fifty years ago, a bipartisan U.S. Congress enacted novel, far-reaching legislation that changed our country and the world for the better. At that time, the Clean Water Act and Clean Air Act were new, untested approaches to combating pollution. The U.S. had a huge problem in the 1970s; rivers regularly caught fire, and many big cities were choked with air pollution.

These new laws enshrined a new but logical principle: polluters should control, and if necessary pay for, the damage they cause to human health and natural resources. For many decades, polluters had a free ride. They dumped pollution in our air and water with impunity. Our kids got sick from unchecked auto exhaust. Our rivers caught fire because they were laden with oil.

These environmental laws have stayed on the books for over five decades, because they work. Today our waters are much cleaner, our air far-less polluted. Missoula. Montana is a great case in point; those who lived here in the 1970s and ’80s will remember how bad our air quality was and how much better it is today. The Clark Fork River is much healthier too now that mining wastes are being cleaned up.

These changes did not occur voluntarily; environmental regulations required tougher standards for air pollution. Mining companies had to pay for the pollution they caused to the Clark Fork. Today, many countries around the world seek to emulate our environmental laws. They are one of the great gifts American democracy has given to the world, a legacy we should be proud of.

Now we are faced with a new type of pollution. Carbon dioxide and other pollutants are accumulating in the atmosphere. These accumulations have already contributed to serious problems; for example, record-breaking fires in California and more powerful hurricanes in Texas and Florida.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

What can we do?

What can we do?

Rainbow over the Tapajós River in the Amazon © Todd Southgate / Greenpeace

At the University of Minnesota Dr. Nate Hagens teaches an honours course called “Reality 101: A Survey of the Human Predicament.” Hagens operated his own hedge fund on Wall Street until he glimpsed, “a serious disconnect between capitalism, growth, and the natural world. Money did not appear to bring wealthy clients more well being.” Hagens became editor of The Oil Drum, and now sits on the Board of the Post Carbon Institute and the Institute for Integrated Economic Research.

Reality 101 addresses humanity’s toughest challenges: economic decline, inequality, pollution, biodiversity loss, and war. Students learn about systems ecology, neuroscience, and economics. “We ask hard questions,” says Hagens. “What is wealth? What are the limits to growth? We attempt to face our crises head on.”

Some students feel inspired to action, and some report finding the material “depressing.” One student shared the course material with a family member, who asked, “So what can I do?” The student struggled to answer this question, and the listener chastised her: “why did you explain all this to me, if you can’t tell me what to do?!”

A fair question. One that, as environmentalists, we often get asked. At the request of Dr Hagens, here is my list:

What can we do?

I have been asking this question all of my adult life. As I’ve witnessed the crisis intensify, I’ve experienced feelings of panic, anger, and helplessness. Nevertheless, I also feel at peace. I love my family and friends, I enjoy life in my community, and love my time in the natural world. Here are some of the ways I believe we can deal with anxiety about the world and take action:

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Decades of Denial and Stalling Have Created a Climate Crunch

Decades of Denial and Stalling Have Created a Climate Crunch

Firefighters spray water on a 2013 bush fire in Australia

In a 1965 speech to members, American Petroleum Institute president Frank Ikard outlined the findings of a report by then-president Lyndon Johnson’s Science Advisory Committee, based in part on research the institute conducted in the 1950s.

The substance of the report is that there is still time to save the world’s peoples from the catastrophic consequence of pollution, but time is running out,” Ikard said, adding, “One of the most important predictions of the report is that carbon dioxide is being added to the earth’s atmosphere by the burning of coal, oil, and natural gas at such a rate that by the year 2000 the heat balance will be so modified as possibly to cause marked changes in climate beyond local or even national efforts.”

Many scientists were reaching similar conclusions, based on a body of evidence that had been growing at least since French mathematician Joseph Fourier described the greenhouse effect in 1824. In the 1950s, Russian climatologist Mikhail Budykoexamined how feedback loops amplify human influences on the climate. He published two books, in 1961 and 1962, warning that growing energy use will warm the planet and cause Arctic ice to disappear, creating feedback cycles that would accelerate warming.

The predictions have proven to be accurate, and evidence for human-caused global warming has since become indisputable.

What happened? Over the ensuing decades, the fossil fuel industry didn’t try to resolve what it knew would become a crisis. Instead, it worked to downplay and often deny the reality of climate change and to sow doubt and confusion. Knowingly putting humanity — and countless other species — at risk for the sake of profit is an intergenerational crime against humanity, but it’s unlikely any perpetrators will face justice.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

For Whom is Peak Oil Coming? If you own a Diesel Car, it is Coming for you!

For Whom is Peak Oil Coming? If you own a Diesel Car, it is Coming for you!

At the beginning, the idea of “peak oil” seemed to be relatively uncomplicated: we would climb from one side and then go down the other side. But no, the story turned out to be devilishly complex. For one thing, there is no such a thing as “oil” intended as a combustible liquid — there are tens, perhaps hundreds, of varieties of the stuff: light, heavy, sour, sweet, shale, tight, dumbbell, and more. And each variety has its story, its peculiarities, its trajectory over time. Eventually, all the oil curves have to end to zero but, in the meantime, there is a lot of wiggling up and down that continues to take us by surprise. Mostly, we didn’t realize how rabidly the system would deny the physical reality of depletion, much preferring to “legislate scarcity” on the basis of pollution.

Here, Antonio Turiel writes a fascinating post telling us how the peak is coming “from below,” affecting first the heavy fraction of crude oil: diesel and fuel oil. That’s already causing enormous problems for the world’s transportation system, as well as for the owners of diesel cars, and the situation will become much more difficult in the near future. The light fraction, the one that produces gasoline, seems to be still immune from peaking, but that will come, too.(U.B.)

The Peak of Diesel Fuel: 2018 edition. 

By Antonio Turiel (translated from “The Oil Crash“)
Dear Readers,
Six years ago we commented on this same blog that, of all the fuels derived from oil, diesel was the one that would probably see its production decline first. 

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

The Fall of Empires Explained in 10 Minutes

The Fall of Empires Explained in 10 Minutes

This is the presentation I gave to the meeting for the 50th anniversary of the Club of Rome on Oct 18th in Rome. The gist of the idea is that the fall of ancient civilizations, such as the Roman Empire, can be described with the same models developed in the 1970 to describe the future of our civilization. States, empires, and entire civilizations tend to fall under the combined effect of resource depletion and growing pollution. In the end, they are destroyed by what I call the Seneca Effect.

You can find the paper I mention in the talk at this link.

The Perils of Plastic Pollution

The Perils of Plastic Pollution

Plastics are found in the products we use every day: the toys we give our children, the clothing we wear, the disposable cups we drink from, the automobiles we make, the straws we use, the list goes on.  Cheap and easy to make, plastic goods and plastic production have exploded in recent years.  Yet the junked cars, the used straws and cups, they all end up somewhere, perhaps in a landfill, or perhaps drifting in the wind.  91% of plastic goods are not recycled.  Most have found their way to rivers, lakes, and oceans, and over time break down into tiny microscopic particles of plastic.  Microplastics are everywhere, even in the deepest sea floor sediments and in the Arctic.  They can originate in small form from toothpaste or makeup, or can be derived from larger pieces of plastic, which over time break down into small particles.

Not very long ago (Sept. 8, 2018), a giant 2,000 foot long tube was launched from San Francisco to be towed to a suitable site.  The brainchild of a young 24-year-old Dutchman named Boyan Slat, it is intended to trap some of the ever-increasing tons of plastic polluting our oceans.  To be sure California lends a more sympathetic ear to pollution problems than does Washington or the federal government these days.

Researchers have sought to determine the extent of plastic pollution and tested water samples from cities and towns on five continents.  The results: microscopic plastic particles were present in 83%.  Ironically samples that tested positive included the US Capitol building and the Environmental Protection Agency in Washington, DC, as well as the Trump Grill in New York.  Researchers say these plastic particles are also likely in foods prepared with water, such as pasta and bread.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Plastic Pollution: The Age of Unsolvable Problems

Plastic Pollution: The Age of Unsolvable Problems

Suddenly, we discovered that plastic pollution is a problem, a big one. What to do about it? As usual, it is a question of governance: the problem in itself is not so terribly bad that it couldn’t be controlled. But, over the years, we develop such effective technologies of anti-governance that we have entered the age of unsolvable problem. 

How bad is the situation with plastic pollution? Rather bad, by all means. Citing from a recent paper by Geyer et al., more than 8 billion tons of plastic have been produced since the 1950s. Of this plastic, 9% percent was recycled, 12% was incinerated, the rest is in part still in use, in part dispersed in the ecosystem. It is this mass of plastics, billions of tons, which form the pollution we see today. It is almost one ton of plastic waste for every human being living today. Imagine if it were magically to appear in your living room: one ton for every member of your family. 

Still following Geyer et al., in 2015 the world produced 380 million tons of plastics from fossil hydrocarbons. To get some idea of how polluting this mass is, we can compare it to the total carbon emissions produced by hydrocarbon combustion, which today can be estimated to be around 9 billion tons of carbon per year. Plastic is mainly carbon, but we should take into account that the process of creating it cannot be 100% efficient. Anyway, we are interested here only in an order of magnitude comparison so we can say that about 4% of the fossil hydrocarbons we extract become plastics.  

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Supercharged by Pollution, Florida’s Toxic Algae Crisis Continues Unabated

Supercharged by Pollution, Florida’s Toxic Algae Crisis Continues Unabated

Fish kill on South Lido Beach, Florida.

I think it is better if kids see what we are doing to the planet,” Womble told me. “Maybe seeing the dead turtle will make them pay attention to the environment.” Her 9-year-old sister Ellie agreed, adding that “covering the turtle won’t stop other turtles from dying.”

Earlier that day the sisters had been on a charter fishing boat 10 miles off Sanibel Island’s coast, where they saw lots of dead fish, large and small, and another dead sea turtle floating on the Gulf of Mexico’s surface. Though they caught some fish, their father, an avid fisherman, had his daughters throw them back. He explained to them that it may be years before marine life can recover from the impacts of the ongoing explosion of toxic algae that already has killed hundreds of tons of fish and other sea life washing up on Florida’s southwest coast.

Dead tarpon fish on Sanibel Island's beach in Florida
Dead tarpon on Sanibel Island’s beach.

Womble sisters standing over a dead loggerhead sea turtle on Sanibel Island
Womble sisters and a dead loggerhead sea turtle on Sanibel Island.

The mass mortality of aquatic life — which some have called “unprecedented” — along 150 miles of Florida’s Gulf Coast, stretching from Naples in the south to Sarasota in the north, is the result of harmful algal blooms, which have been supercharged by pollution.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Olduvai IV: Courage
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Olduvai II: Exodus
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